Regularly added bite-sized reviews about Literature, Art, Music & Film.
Voltaire said the secret of being boring is to say everything.
We do not wish to say everything or see everything; life, though long is too short for that.
We hope you take these little syntheses in the spirit of shared enthusiasm.
This sublime series, from one, two, three, four and five, a pre-cursor to Breaking Bad, is wrapping things up. Series Six hurtles toward dark places with all the terrifying speed of a runaway train, conducted by Edgar Allan Poe. This is a slow train wreck coming: we know that split-personality-Saul, Honourable killer Mike, and Super Polite and Super Evil Gus, make it into the made-earlier-but-set-later series, but what of Nacho, Howard, the dreadful Lalo and – of course – Kym?
It’s just the best thing on TV in many, many years…Continue Reading →
(…play Saint George’s Road (and more), Adelaide Guitar Festival, 15 July 2022)
Joseph Camilleri (b. 1948 in Malta) formed the seminal R & B / Rock band, Jo Jo Zep And The Falcons, in 1975, that crafted several classic songs (So Young, Hit And Run, Shape I’m In, we even liked the faux-disco Sweet) that would have been monster hits in any parallel universe. Real success didn’t come until 1983, when Camilleri created The Black Sorrows, with hits such as Hold On To Me, Harley and Rose, Chained To The Wheel, Never Let Me Go, Mystified and the Chosen Ones. While Joe is a consummate artist, TVC, having seen him in the Barossa Valley some years ago (he was terrific), went along to the Dunstan Playhouse with the queasy feeling well-known to pop fans: would the evening play out as comedian Tony Martin described some years ago, when his mates persuaded him out to see a Neil Diamond concert? “C’mon, it’ll be great, he’ll play “Crunchy Granola Suite,” – which he did, after several crap songs from his new album Lovescape.
Before that apprehension was resolved, Lecia Louise, a (very tall) guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and singer (Woodford Folk Festival – 2004/05 & 2007/2008, Woodford’s Dreaming Festival – 2009, Mullumbimby Festival – 2009/2010, The Quicksilver Pro – 2008, A La Carte in The Park – 2008, West End Festival – 2011 and featured at Joyfest), gave us a set of mostly unknown (to us) songs that ranged from old-school rock to country, including “Admirable Woman,” and one about the diverse qualities of men (may they never meet). She is a one-woman band, utilising synth, samples and pedal changes expertly, and has a strong good voice. And she did a great cover of the creepy song by War, “Low Rider,” so memorably used in The Young Poisoner’s Handbook. A great support.
And The Black Sorrows put our qualms to rest: with great backing – Claude Carranza (guitar/vocals), Mark Gray (bass/vocals), James Black (keyboards/vocals) and Tony Floyd (drums) – Joe Camilleri lead a full house through songs traversing the years, such as “Wednesday’s Child,” “Hold on to Me,” “Saint Georges Road,” “Livin Like Kings,” “Harley and Rose,” and “Tears for the Bride.”
And there was a barnstorming finale, “Shape I’m In.” We only clipped half a star off our review because we could have done with more.
Though in his career Camilleri has been described as an “incredibly poor record seller,” he’s said “I never signed up to make money, I signed up for the music.” His music, (Saint Georges Road is his 50th album) remains of consistent high quality; his voice has stayed strong, his sax is mellow and pure, and he clearly is having loads of fun. And pleasing loads of people. That’s our definition of success.Continue Reading →
(Directed by Norman Jewison) (1967)
It looks a little dated now: race is still a Great Big American Problem but in an entirely different way – however, In the Heat of the Night still resonates, largely due to efficient direction and some terrific performances. Styled as a thriller, and fairly glib even on that level, the film has flaws (including over-plotting) but works most effectively as a study of chalk-and-cheese relationships, where our tribes become our talismans and we forget how much alike we really are. (A title song performed by Ray Charles helps).
Virgil Tibbs (great name, played by Sidney Poitier), a negro loitering at a train station in Ol’ Miss early in the morning, (in a suit, to boot!) naturally draws the suspicion of a local patrol cop, Sam Wood (Warren Oates). A moneybags has moved into town to establish a factory and Sam finds him in an alley with his head bashed in. And now, look at all that money in Tibb’s wallet!
Police Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger) thinks they’ve got their man, but Tibbs proves he is a homicide detective from Philly – who earns more than Chief Gillespie – and then agrees to lend a hand with the investigation (somewhat begrudgingly; the prejudice on all sides is done well, without ladling too much sauce on the meat). Poitier, so often type-cast as the Ivy-League Magic Negro, is excellent as the taciturn, aggrieved stranger who has depths of knowledge, expertise, and courage that earn him the respect of the local cops. A number of supporting roles add nice colour, including Lee Grant as the murdered man’s widow, Scott Wilson as the poor-white-trash suspect, and Larry Gates as the local patrician who resents Tibbs’ presence (their exchange of slaps is an electrifying moment).
In the final analysis, however, the film belongs to Rod Steiger. A character actor turned leading man who at times could lead his character into a chewing of the scenery, Steiger here, albeit playing a redneck out of the cracker-barrel, is scrupulously restrained in a wonderful performance. As David Shipman wrote: “the scene where he confesses to [Tibbs] his loneliness had some beautifully controlled emotional acting..” and it is to him that much of the success of the piece is due.Continue Reading →
(Directed by Baz Luhrmann, Gold Coast premiere, June 2022) [Editor’s note: Rock biopics have greatly improved of late, such as Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. It was only a matter of time before some ambitious director ‘Followed That Dream’ and tackled the life of Elvis Presley, one of the most significant cultural figures of the twentieth century. Our guest reviewer, Andrew Brown, the biggest Elvis Tragic we know, attended the Gala Premiere on Queensland’s Las Vegas, the Gold Coast (or “Goldy”) with family in tow, to report on proceedings.]
We attended the Red Carpet event on the Goldy on 4 June, under the pretense of taking Jodie shopping at Pacific Fair Shopping Centre – our first red carpet ever, and it was worth the lining up (I lined up while Jodie shopped) – secured front row, to see and hear Baz, Tom (Hanks), Austin (Butler), Olivia (DeJonge) and all the cast. Seemed to be a lot of love in the air by all on the carpet – I suspect due to being together for over 2 years, on and off, on the Goldy, through COVID. Then the Premiere screening occurred on 23 June 2022.
I thought the film captured the essence of The King – born to sacrifice his life to change forever the World of Music, leaving a legacy which lives stronger all the time, which is ironic as Elvis’ biggest fear was that he would not be remembered and it would all be over in his life time.
Having visited Memphis, Graceland, Beale St, Sun Recording Studio and surrounds, the recreation of those places on the Goldy was amazing, a stepping-back in time – ever since I visited, I have thought that to have been in that part of the World in the 50’s would have been like living in the centre of the universe, in terms of the change and excitement.
The film’s focus on Elvis’ spiritual side is appropriate, in terms of music and life. And just as Elvis hit his peak following the TV “comeback” special and the start of his Vegas career, his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, signed his life away, obligating The King to play unprecedented numbers of concerts, in order to cover the Col’s gambling debts. In the end, Elvis effectively gives up his wife and child, to keep performing, with the assistance of Dr. Nick’s drugs, with no genuine wellbeing support from his manager, father or mates – he needed his fans more than his family: very sad, but what a legacy. We loved it and aim to see it again. And for a post-movie session, we headed to a late lunch at Rick Shores restaurant in Burleigh Heads – according to Baz, one of the reasons he so loved the Goldy!Continue Reading →
(21 King William Street, 30 June 2022)
What better way to wind up the end of financial year than a blow out at this rather impressive teppanyaki place in Adelaide, in the 1936 AMP Building, built in the Beaux Arts style.
There’s a set menu range, for meat lovers, seafood lovers, and mix and matchers: featuring such dishes as Coffin Bay Oysters with sour cream and chive, ponzu and salmon roe; Steamed Egg with Foie Gras, Oscietra caviar; Wagyu roll with Enoki and a Teriyaki glaze; Ora King Salmon with Nori, Kombu butter; Beef Tataki; Teriyaki Chicken, an Angus Beef Tenderloin with Wagyu Fried Rice and Miso Soup, plus dessert, which was a cool green pistachio-type ice cream. Washed down with a Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling.
Not every dish worked but it built to a satisfying whole. Service was excellent and the company at our table stimulating. You won’t get out of the joint without a dent in your wallet, but it is worth it for a special occasion.Continue Reading →
(dir. Ari Aster) (2019)
Midsommar performs poorly on The Babadook Horror Movie Scale. Rather than dark mansions and creepy children, Aster has set his nastiness in sunny meadows (although it still looks cold) peopled by beatifically-smiling blond Swedes. But the story is familiar. Nice, naive, clean, modern-day American kids are blindsided by evil, sophisticated old-worlde types. Maybe there’s witchcraft. (See Henry James, add The Lottery, stir with Rosemary’s Baby). While we’re at it, let’s get the rest of the obvious comparisons out of the way: The Wicker Man, Get Out, The Village and Hereditary (Aster’s previous feature). Our innocents, Christian (Jack Reynor), Mark (Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Dani (Florence Pugh) don’t appear to know any of these cautionary tales, or they’d be a bit suspicious when they see a bear in a cage in the compound of a Swedish cult. At the time of a big festival.
Apparent layabout Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) has invited his US college buddies, anthropology students Christian, Mark and Josh, to his family’s ancestral commune in rural Sweden to experience a one-in-eighty-years summer festival. Dani, a psychology student (honestly could these people be more useless?) invites herself along, much to the chagrin of the guys, including her boyfriend Christian, who has been trying to ditch her. The kids don’t suspect a thing but we, the audience, do, from the moment the group arrives and is offered native hallucinogenic mushrooms by the grinning, flower-crowned cult members. This can’t be good.
Later (and curiously often), the Swedes sit at long, pale, outdoor tables staring into space silently, while the Americans lounge, complain and play with their cutlery. The silent staring thing doesn’t bother them. Nor does the bear. In a cage. In a Swedish field. They’re also OK with the deliberately-bred imbecile oracle (in ridiculous prostheses). We in the audience, however, know that it’s time for Dani to say, “I’m off to Spain then”. But she stays. She wants to hang onto Christian and there’s a redhead feeding him unmentionables. Dani was kind of clingy before, but after a triple bereavement early in the film (well done scenes and a theme that should have been expanded to add more of the depth which this film desperately needs) no, she’s not leaving, even when heads get smashed. Things get even weirder when Mark unwittingly profanes the ancestors. (Frankly we’re glad to see the back of him with his brash American ways and weird eyebrows).
We the audience stay too, because, although we know from experience the general manner in which this will end, Midsommar is atmospheric and entertaining enough; despite being a pallid and pointless derivative of so many stories that have come before. It looks pretty (most of the time) and there’s a nice final shot.Continue Reading →
(Dir. Charlotte Brandstrom and Simon Kaijser) (Netflix, 5 Episodes)
Unlike another recent Netflix offering set in Sweden (Midsommar), the natives in The Unlikely Murderer are not beautiful; nor do they dance among the buttercups. Rather, these Swedes are generally jowly, live in flimsy brown apartments and are spared nothing by the close-ups of their pores and the 1980s fashions (did such a high proportion of Swedish women really suffer under mushroom haircuts?)
The Unlikely Murderer is based on the true life assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme (Peter Viitanen), below, in the town of Täby, north of Stockholm. After the Prime Minister and his wife (a terrific, hard-edged Cilla Thorell) left a cinema on the snowy night of the 28th February 1986, Palme was shot and killed by a lone assailant. There was a person convicted but he was acquitted on appeal. To this day there has been no-one brought to justice.
Stig Engström (a similarly excellent Robert Gustafsson*), a middle-aged graphic designer at Skandia in Täby, is rotund, bald and resentful. He is loathed by his colleagues – save for kind-hearted Gunhild (Lia Boysen), reminiscent of Francois Pignon’s secretary, Mademoiselle Blond, in The Dinner Game. Indeed, Engström could be Monsieur Pignon gone bad, very bad. Engström is angry and unbalanced; despised, suspected and pitied by his wife Margareta (Eva Melander); ridiculed by his bridge partners.
The Swedish police find Engström an unlikely murderer due to his poor health, clean criminal record and general air of impotence. But the writers of this series consider him to be the likely murderer because of his paranoia, loathing of Palme, access to and familiarity with guns, and his presence at the scene. The series moves between early scenes on the night of the shooting (when we see Engström kill the Prime Minister) and its long aftermath.
Engström craves the media attention he first attracts as an eye-witness and chases it for years, long after the police have lost interest in him. The police are portrayed as inept, but it is difficult for the non-Swedish viewer to follow their investigation because of the preponderance of similar names and the various agencies involved. Real-life authors Lars Larsson and Thomas Pettersson (Björn Bengtsson) brought Engström back to the attention of the police. In 2020, twenty years after Engström’s death, and thirty-four years after the assassination, the prosecutor rather expediently named Engström as the prime suspect in the murder and closed the case.
The series is in the Swedish language but carefully and satisfyingly dubbed into English with a few sub-titles.[*Robert Gustafsson (who lacks real jowls) says that he was in the same cinema as the Palmes on that night. He suspects Engström.] [Ed. “But how did you like the film, Mrs.Palme?”] Continue Reading →
“This is the true story of one of the most mesmerizing riddles in western history and, in particular, of the unsung woman who would very likely have solved it, had she only lived a little longer”, begins Fox’s telling of the decipherment of Linear B. As with so many of the early, imaginative theories of the meaning of the Linear B script, however, this is less accurate and more enticing than the truth. Alice Elizabeth Kober’s role in the solving of this mystery was overshadowed, but not ‘unsung’ as was Rosalind Franklin’s role in the decipherment of the structure of DNA, for so long. (Fox wisely never draws the comparison). As Fox herself says, “Kober was by the mid-twentieth century the world’s leading expert on Linear B.”
Kober (1906-1950), an overworked American academic (see below) whom Fox calls “The Detective,” is the central figure of three in this – yes – mesmerizing book. In 1900 Arthur Evans, “The Digger” (how he would loathe that title!), a famed British archaeologist, unearthed an immense Bronze Age building on the island of Crete. He concluded that it was the palace of King Minos, home to the Minotaur. Most importantly, he found thousands of clay tablets inscribed with a hitherto unknown writing and preserved by fire. At that time they were Europe’s earliest written records. Evans and his successors sat on them, releasing only a few inscriptions to scholars desperate to attempt the decipherment.
Kober set to work on the copies of inscriptions which she did have, learning other languages first, to assist. The work involved is mind-boggling. Having determined that Linear B is a mainly syllabic language, “[s]he catalogued the frequency of each character, of course, but she catalogued a great deal more than that. She noted the frequency of each character in any position in a word, (initial, second, middle, next-to-last, and final); the characters that appeared before and after every sign; the chances of a given character’s occurring in combination with any other character; repeated instances of two- and three-character clusters; and much else.” By the time of her death in 1950 at the age of 43 she had filled 180,000 index cards hand-made due to wartime shortages). To those with some knowledge of an inflected language – such as Latin or Ancient Greek – the explanation of Kober’s method, determining “the complex interlacements between the Minoan language and the Minoan writing system” will be particularly fascinating, but it’s a must-read for anyone at all interested in puzzles, writing and language.
Then, as every schoolboy knows, in 1952 architect Michael Ventris (“The Architect”, son of architects who went to Carl Jung personally for child-rearing advice) published his findings – a decipherment of Linear B*. He had had the benefit of the work of Kober and others but, curiously, at the eleventh hour, only made the breakthrough when he reluctantly abandoned his certainty that Linear B was not a form of Greek. Ventris has of course been lauded for this final push, at the expense of Kober (and others who worked on the script).
After all that, what do the tablets tell us? “There are no grand narratives lurking in Linear B – no epic poems, no romances, no tales of gods and their derring-do.” They are the administrative and economic records of a Mycenean state, some 3,000 years ago. “Their account books, set in clay and baked in unintended fire, tell us what they sowed and reaped, what they ate and drank, the names of the gods they worshipped…how they earned their keep, how they passed their time, how they defended themselves and made war”. And that’s a great deal. Fox quotes the American newspaperman Murray Kempton on the difference between criminal and civil proceedings – “The Criminal Courts can only tell us the way some of our sisters and brothers steal or kill or die. But the Civil Courts tell us the way all of us live”.
(Director Joseph Kosinski) (Netflix, 2022)
Spiderhead, a 107 minute TV movie from a short story by George Saunders (see our review of Lincoln in the Bardo here) is a bit too long. About 100 minutes too long. Saunders kept the story short for a reason.
It starts interestingly enough and maintains the tone of a Black Mirror episode throughout, (not a good Black Mirror episode though. Not like San [sob] Junipero [sob]). Steve Abnesti (A Hemsworth) is the governor (sort-of) of an island prison facility called “Spiderhead” (the name is not explained in the film and don’t bother Googling it, it doesn’t really matter). Prisoners who agree to take part in experimental drug trials can be transferred to Spiderhead where, in exchange for guinea pig status, they live in comfortable surroundings. Jeff (Miles Teller) who accidentally killed a mate when he drove drunk (so that he’s relatable) is in a relationship with Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett, sister of Jussie!). Lizzy’s crime has to be a doozy for the plot to work, but it isn’t and it doesn’t. The story suffers from the writers’ constant attempts to make the audience like Jeff and Lizzy. Furthermore, Jeff seems to have free run of Abnesti’s quarters and the experiment station itself.
Whichever of the many identical Hemsworths this is, he gives the spider who administers the drugs and plays with peoples’ lives the usual smug Hemsworth treatment. He even refers to himself as one of the ‘beautiful people’. His only interesting moment is when he dances to Roxy Music’s More Than This. It does add depth to the character and, if you like Hemsworths, you’ll love it, (whichever Hemsworth it is). Indeed, the soundtrack is pleasing, and fitting.
Abnesti’s small and earnest assistant Verlaine (Mark Paguio) gives us enough concerned looks to ensure that we know that something’s wrong. The big reveal is no surprise, and doesn’t even make sense. The action scenes are silly. The sex scenes are gratuitous and cringeworthy. It is reported that the Hemsworth who played Abnesti said that there was a “complexity to the character unlike anything I’d done before“. This is frightening. As is the amount of mascara he allows to be ladled onto the eyelashes of his blue, blue eyes. We recommend that this Hemsworth immediately watch Paul Newman in The Hustler and in Hud. Watch and learn.Continue Reading →
(Directed by Erik Richter Strand, Netflix, UK, 6-part series)
The only thing behind the eyes of any of the actors in Behind Her Eyes is the sad realisation that life has come to this.
Adam (Tyler Howitt, below) is a sassy-but-melancholy, innocent-but-knowing, big-framed-glasses-wearing dumpling of a kid. The kind of kid that the writers of chick-flicks give a single mother when they want the audience to like her.
The single mother in this chick-flick is Louise Barnsely (Simona Brown) who has the type of job that only those same kind of writers could think we’ll believe. Louise is a part-time receptionist in a private psychiatric clinic (Oh! A psychiatric clinic. That’ll be a plot point). There Louise does nothing all day but eat and listen to private phone conversations. Just so that we know that Louise, although appropriately poor, is funky too, she dresses like a colour-blind gypsy from the 1950s (which will in fact be appropriate later, as will her frequent and risible wide-eyed looks of amazement and horror).
Louise has a really bad and embarrassing day in her spiffy office when the new psychiatrist, Dr. David Ferguson (Tom Bateman) starts work. O no! she and he shared a kiss the night before, not knowing that they would be working together! But he’s married! And he’s irresistible. (Apparently. Miscast, if you ask us). What a unique situation. Never before heard of in the annals of bad TV. Naturally Dr. F and Louise hurl themselves at each other. Louise “knows it’s wrong”, but by then she’s seen his massive house.
Meanwhile, we know that there is something wrong with Dr. F’s wife Adele (Eve Hewson, below) who wears silky pyjamas day and night. She befriends Louise, but neither of them tell Dr. F. Louise seems to think that this is a fun secret. During the flashbacks to her troubled youth (in a castle, in the woods), Adele stumps about in stumpy floral playsuits, although it’s freezing in the castle in the woods. Eve Hewson does what little she is given to do well. But then, her hair does most of it. Long and down indicates wild loony young Adele. Psychotically neat bob equals modern-day Stepford wife.
To emphasise the gap between the Haves and the Have Nots, those ingenious writers introduce Adele’s unlikely friend Robert Hoyle (an excellent performance by Robert Aromayo), a Glaswegian loser.
The whole silly chick-flick triangle thing then degenerates into supernatural mumbo-jumbo worthy of a C-grade 1950s or 60’s schlock movie. Those dated clothes and eye-rolling come in useful now.
No, we didn’t see the twist coming because even Ed Wood wouldn’t buy it. But it made the double-twist inevitable, if idiotic.[Editor’s note: C’mon Netflix! Your stock and ratings are tanking; how about screening some old movies or making some sensible drama? You could plunder a thousand decent out-of-copyright novels, for starters.] Continue Reading →